Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter Malting Barley at One Month, Nov. 16, 2010

My small patch of malting barley at just about one month old. There has been ample rain and it has grown to between 4 and 6 inches.

Some has been nibbled by squirrels or rabbits, but that should not hurt it at all. Barley should not enter the coldest weather "winter proud" (too long). Some old time farmers would graze sheep on winter barley in late fall to give the sheep a green bite and also reduce the length of the barley to prevent tip die-back and encourage tillering (the barley sending out side shoots, which themselves produce heads of barley).

It has been frosting some nights, but has been in the 60s most days, so the barley plants are still growing. So far, so good. This looks just about the same as the plot did in each of the last two years when I also grew WINTMALT barley here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


One of the main reasons we are keeping chickens is so we will have a supply of fresh eggs. We bought our six hens in May when they were five week old chicks. They finally stated laying in early-October when they were just a bit over six months old.


First we would get one egg every day or two. Then two. Now we get between two or four eggs a day, which I surmise means most but not all. of the chickens are now laying regularly. If all goes well, we hope to get an average of about 4 eggs a day from the six chickens, which will mean lots to give away.

The yolks are really orange and stand up on the bowl. They make excellent quiches (broccoli, bacon, and cheese , above) and scrambled eggs. We've also used them in cookies, muffins, and as a binder to bread fish (our home-caught striped bass).

Chesapeake Bay Chicken Coop

We bought six female Araucana chicks in May 2010 and set about learning about how to care for chickens. It first they lived in a large plastic box with wood shavings on the bottom and a feeder, a waterer, and a light bulb clipped to the wall for heat.

Throughout the early summer, the growing chickens spent the night in the box (with a hardware cloth grate over the top) and lived by day in a six foot around dog run that we moved every day for them to have access to new grass.

We knew they would need a permanent coop and protective run so I started building one. It ended up taking all summer, but we built a very substantial coop that is architecturally similar to our house and which fits very nicely into the setting. It is located about 200 feet from the Chesapeake Bay and has water views.

The hen house is 6x7 feet and the run is 6 x12 feet and is roofed in white corrugated plastic. Hawks, eagles, owls, foxes, and raccoons are all potential problems for our chickens .

The chickens lived happily in the coop until we went back to our regular house in early September. I transported them back in a dog crate in the back of my pick-up. They will live there again for two weeks at Xmas.

As I write this I just remembered that I have not completed the egg boxes at the shore coop! The chickens were not laying when we left. A project for our first days of vacation.

Suburban Chickens

I have wanted chickens for twenty years and this spring we finally made the plunge. We bought six Araucana chicks while visiting our vacation house in rural Virginia. Araucana is a fairly common breed for home poultry keepers in the US. Araucana is a breed of chickens originally from Chile and which are though by some to be descendants of birds brought to the Pacific coast of South America by Polynesian seafarers who sailed across the Pacific in pre-Columbian times. We got them because they were available and because they lay pale blue/green eggs.

Araucanas are medium sized chickens that are known as good egg layers, being friendly and calm, and able to handle both low and high temperatures, which is important where we live.

The pictures in this posting are of our suburban coop. The chicken house measures just six feet by four feet. It contains a four-foot long roost (for roosting and sleeping at night) and an egg box with two stations. I pre-fabbed the hen house at our vacation house, transported it in pieces to our regular house in my pick-up, and re-assembeled it there. The run is six by ten feet and is about 4.5 feet tall and was built in situ.

The house and run are enclosed in a brick garden that is located off our bedroom. The brick makes a very effective sight and sound shield. It is essentially impossible to see or hear the chickens even when you are just a few feet away outside of the brick wall. The chickens are extremely quiet anyway.

The chickens have been in their coop since early September and all seems well. They started laying eggs about three weeks ago. I will post about eggs next.

Barley Growth at Three Weeks, Nov. 4, 2010

My malting barley field three weeks after planting. The grass is about 4-6 inches high. It is raining today, which is good. We had our first hard frost on Nov. 2, but the days are still warm enough for the barley to grow (above 50 degrees). Looks good so far.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Suburban Haymaking

Since September I have been dumping a bushel of fresh grass clippings into the chicken pen whenever I mow. Our six chickens really like to eat the grass, pick through it, scratch, and generally play with it. They are especially happy when I dump a few handfuls of barley over the clippings so they can peck and scratch through the pile to get the barley.

Fall is here and there won't be any more mowing, so I have taken the last cutting of the year and am drying it (i.e., making it into hay) to keep for winter so I will have something to throw in to the chicken run and use for litter on the floor of the hen house. I am not sure that they will eat the dried grass, but it will still give them a change of pace and something different to scratch through.

I basically just let the lawn get pretty long (maybe six inches) then mowed with a push mower that catches the clippings in a bag. I usually use a riding mower and leave the clippings on the lawn. I filled about 16 mower bags with clippings -- about 10 bags the first time I cut and 6 bags the second time on a different part of the lawn about two days later -- and dumped them on the driveway to dry. I spread them out using a hoe so they are no more than 1-2 inches deep and there are spaces here and there.

Twice a day I used a leaf rake to "ted" the hay, (the act is called "tedding") which means I turned it over and fluffed it up to ensure it is drying evenly throughout and there are no moist clumps that could mold. The best hay I have, which is grass collected from the middle of the yard, was basically dry in two days (sunny days, daytime/nighttime temps: 68/40 degrees). I left it out one more day just to make sure. The weather was predicted to stay dry.

The second time I cut grass for hay -- two days after the first -- I collected clippings closer to trees and got more leaves in the hay. The leaves were just starting to fall in earnest here the last week of October. The picture to the left shows grass cut 2 days apart (older, dryer grass on right). I think this grass/leaf mix (left) will be fine for litter in the coop. I am storing the hay in big plastic bins, pressed down as firmly as I can get it, in the garage.

I processed and stored a total of two large plastic containers of the first cutting of the hay. I pressed down as hard as I could with the flat part and then the end of a grain scoop shovel to try to pack the material as tightly as possible into the containers. Each container is roughly the size if a commercial bale of hay. I am sure my hay is not packed as tightly as a real bale, so my actual mass of hay is definitely not two bales -- maybe about one-half bale total. Writing this gives me the idea that I should weigh the hay. I plan to store the second cutting of hay later in the week. I am hoping for no rain because I will be out of town for a few days.

Above: The finished product: completely dry and ready to be stored and used.

Hay being pressed into containers for storage in the garage. Unfinished (not quite dry yet) hay in background.